10 year anniversary!

10 years ago today, I started my high performance driving journey with a track day at Thunderhill Raceway Park. I remember it like it was yesterday. I got up at 0-dark-thirty so I get to the track when it opened. Just before I entered the property, I stopped to take a picture of the moon looming large against the horizon. My brother Mario was driving up from San Carlos, and arrived at nearly the same. I think he thought there might be something wrong with my car. I explained that I was just taking a picture.

The track day was run by Northern California Racing Club (NCRC). There was no right-seat instructor for me. Instead, they had us doing lead-follow most of the day. At the end of the day I got a check-out ride for solo. Shortly after, I spun in Turn 3, ended up going backwards up the hill, and stalled the car.

Speaking of the car, it was a 1986 BMW 325es with “summer” tires. My lap times were somewhere around 2:40. I don’t recall exactly, but I do remember hypermiling my way to 36 mpg on the way back from the track. I think this says a lot about my driving personality.

Whenever I look back at something, I have a tendency to think “what would I have done differently if I did it again?” Sadly, I think I made several pretty good decisions. The bad decisions tend to make better stories.

10 years of “track” cars

1988 MR2

The first race car I bought into predated my first track event. We bought a first-gen MR2 for Lemons racing and turned it into a boat. It won an Organizer’s Choice award for its fishing boat theme, even though the original Noah’s Ark was better. Somehow we placed top 10 in the Lamborarri version. MR2s are really cool cars, but not cut out for the rigors of racing. After several mechanical disasters, we gave it to a team that could take better care of it. Sadly, it hasn’t raced since.

1986 E30

While Miata is always the answer, BMW 3-series is a pretty close second. These days, E30s are getting expensive and parts are getting harder to find. E36 and E46 make more sense today. In the picture below you can see Mario’s Miata in the background.

1997 Miata

This car was originally purchased as a joint effort between Mario and Derek as their HPDE car (pictured above). It went through a lot of adventures in its life, eventually racing in Lemons, ChumpCar, Lucky Dog, and SCCA events. We ended up giving it to Deaf Power Racing, who continue to race it to this day. The picture below shows the Miata in Royal Mail livery with the E30 and Lamborarri MR2 in the background.

2007 Yaris

I bought this originally for my son but ended up turning into an HPDE car. Later, I caged it for BSPEC, but only did one race. It has done events in Lemons, Lucky Dog, ChumpCar, SCCA, and VARA. The picture below shows what it looked like near the start of its career.

2004 Ranger

Although I never intended for Ranger to be a track car, I did have it on the track and skid pad a couple times. Maybe more than a couple times, as I wore out the rear tires drifting. It was actually a lot of fun to drive in a spirited manner, and makes me want to race one.

1994 Miata

I owned a 1994 Miata for about a year, and I set it up for track driving with a roll bar that I installed and even helped build. However, I never got a chance to track it. It wasn’t a very clean example of the breed, and the idea of dumping money into suspension and such just didn’t appeal to me. Had it been a really nice Miata, I may have kept it. I hope the current owner is driving the shit out of it.

1998 318ti

I purchased a 318ti under some weird circumstances from a sketchy-as-fuck Russian dude. I couldn’t get it to run right, so I ended up selling it before I even registered it. When I imagine my ideal vehicles, one is a RWD hatchback that seats 4 and weighs under 2800 lbs. Maybe I need to find one.

2002 Elantra GT

The GT, as I used to call it, was actually a great all-purpose vehicle. I did some minor upgrades to suspension and ARB, and it handled absolutely great on the skid pad and on track. The automatic transmission killed the lap times, but as a Meals on Wheels delivery vehicle, it was perfect. This may sound crazy, but an Elantra GT with the Tiburon V6 and a manual transmission would be my other perfect car (I need two, RWD and FWD).

1996 Z3

I’ve always liked roadsters. Although I love NA/NB Miatas, I wanted to try something a little different. I was considering Boxster, NC Miata, SLK230, Z3, and Z4. Not many people would choose the Z3, and the 1.9L at that, but it makes the most sense to me. It handles like a dream and gets 35 mpg on the highway. Every time I drive it I think, “this is what an under-powered convertible is supposed to be”. Perfection.

2011 C30 R-Design

The Volvo was supposed to be my New York car. I love the unusual design, and the performance potential of a 227 hp car weighing 3200 lbs sounded good. I installed a hidden switch to disable traction control but sadly, it didn’t disable stability control. This meant that it would add brakes to prevent you from yawing. With no grip and no yaw, the car was both slow and no fun. I did enter an autocross as a rookie and picked up a win. That’s the best thing I did with it. The worst was blowing up the motor after about 5 laps on its first track day.

2008 Mini

The new New York car is a Mini. This is a joint effort between my brother and I. Or as I like to think of it, it’s his way of acquiring yet another track car and claim it’s not his. I drove it around on the streets, and I really like it. I have a low threshold for cars I like though. Let’s see how it performs on track (also a low bar as it turns out).

10 years of support vehicles

1995 Ranger

I bought a 1995 Ranger for $1350. It was a base model with a 2.3L engine and didn’t even have power steering. It was dead-on reliable. I used it to haul stuff to the races and even used it to flat-tow the MR2 a couple times. I’m pretty sure it’s still running today. I can’t find a picture of it.

2004 Ranger

Eventually I replaced the 1995 ranger with the more powerful 3.0L V6. By more powerful, I mean less than 10 hp. Still, I did use it to tow the Miata all over the place. That’s the 2004 below.

Shitty Trailer

For a while I had the world’s shittiest trailer. It was barely large enough to hold the Miata. I helped a friend move an E46 at one point and I could see the whole thing bending. I had some near tragic accidents with it and I’m glad I no longer own it. About the best thing I can say about it is that I didn’t lose any money on it. That’s the trailer above.

1991 Ford E350 RV

I had these great designs of traveling all over California in an RV with my Yaris B-SPEC in tow. Then I ran afoul of some back problems that haven’t 100% gone away. I never got a chance to do anything fun with the RV. I sold it to someone who was going to do a full solar build. Hopefully he has the fun I didn’t get to have.

2007 Ranger

While the 2004 Ranger was a pretty good vehicle in most respects, I wanted something a little more powerful and something with 4 wheel drive. I looked at a bunch of stuff and ended up with Ranger #4 (I also had one 25 years ago). Why do I like Rangers? I guess because they are reliable and familiar. Would I rather have a Tacoma? Yes, but they cost twice as much.

Tire Trailer

When I had the 1994 Miata, I decided I wanted to have a tire trailer so I could transport tires, tools, chairs, etc. to the track. So I bought a trailer and got it registered. Later, I thought I would tow a trailer behind the Z3. It fits 4 tires and has a storage bin attached. It turns out I don’t really want to tow anything on a track day. Anyone want to buy it?

10 years of racing

I’m too lazy to dig up photos of all of my racing adventures, so I’m not going to try. This is getting long, so I’ll summarize.

  • Lemons: I’ve been to 25 Lemons races. 19 as driver, 1 as crew, 4 as safety staff, and 1 as Judge. I’ll have to do a 10 year recap of that when I get to the actual 10 year anniversary in September.
  • Lucky Dog: 7 races. Best finish was 3rd overall in a full 24 hour race. It was an epic and unforgettable experience.
  • ChumpCar: 7 races. Best finish was 3rd overall, which happened twice.
  • SCCA: 1 race. I was the only BSPEC, so I came in first (and last). It wasn’t very fun.
  • Rally: 1 rally school. It was fun, but I never competed.

3 things I love

  • Analysis – Examining data is a lot of fun if you like solving puzzles. Racing is rich with unknowns, myths, and outright lies. As a scientist by profession and passion, there is a lot to explore here. Every time I step into a car, real or virtual, I can’t help but experiment, analyze, and ponder.
  • Driving – I absolutely love sliding a car around a race track: the balance between precision and danger, the interface between driver and machine, the optimizations vs. the trade-offs… To me, the only thing better than driving the limit is a brief trespass and safe return from well beyond.
  • Lemons – The folks at 24 Hours of Lemons created budget endurance racing. By making fun of an industry that takes itself way too seriously, they somehow spawned an entirely new industry that also takes itself too seriously. You know what’s better than Lemons racing? The Lemons community.

6 things I like

  • Coaching – I started coaching in mid-2015. It’s rewarding being part of someone else’s driving journey. We usually have a great time, and sometimes I can actually help them. I’ve met a lot of nice people and have had the chance to sit in some pretty cool cars. But I recently decided I’m retired as a right-seat coach. I’ve also been teaching a class on High Performance Driving at UC Davis since 2019.
  • Racing – Driving wheel-to-wheel with other drivers is pretty good fun. I especially like racing in the rain. But if I was offered a choice between racing and testing, I would choose testing.
  • Readers – Having an audience to write for, even a small one, is really great. Thanks for reading.
  • Sim Racing – I started sim racing with rFactor sometime in 2013. I didn’t really get serious about it until I started iRacing at the end of 2013. In 2015 I discovered DiRT Rally, which probably did more to change my perspective on driving than anything prior or since. For me, sim racing is about 90% as good as the real thing. In the 10 years I’ve been in this hobby, I have less than 100 hours driving on track. However, in the virtual world, I have 10 times that. Pretty much everything I know about driving comes from sim racing. And by sim racing, I don’t mean racing other cars. I spend most of my time just testing one thing or another.
  • Teammates – I’m very fortunate that the people I’ve driven with have all been really great people. Thank you for being you.
  • YSAR – I like writing about driving. The constant introspection improves my learning. Years from now, I think it will be fun to look back at this and have it kick-start some memories.

A partial list of annoyances

My high performance driving hobby isn’t all joy. There are lots of things that annoy me about cars, driving, and car culture.

  • Anger – Whether it’s the street or track, people get unreasonably angry when they’re behind the wheel. Sometimes that’s me.
  • Autocross – On a typical autocross day, there’s less than 5 minutes of driving and more than 5 hours of standing around. If you’re into autocross, that’s great, because it’s a shit-ton less expensive than circuit racing. Personally, I don’t have the patience. But give me an open parking lot, some cones, and no waiting, and I’m all in! But that wouldn’t be autocross, would it?
  • Car Guys – Most car guys aren’t actually interested in driving. They just want a car that looks the part. If car guys were musicians, 95% would be playing air guitar (badly).
  • Dark Side – Most of the time I try to be a good person who sacrifices his time for the benefit of others. But there is a dark side to my personality, and racing feeds it.
  • D-K effect– Not only is it the case that nobody knows how to drive, nobody knows that they don’t know how to drive. Nowhere is the Dunning-Kruger effect more evident than in the world of (fake) high performance driving.
  • Drag racing – Drag racing isn’t high performance driving, and I have no interest in it. Why are people drag racing outside my house on a constant basis? I would gladly do it for test purposes though.
  • Experts – There are a lot of driving experts that don’t actually know shit about driving. This includes most YouTube hosts, your HPDE coach, and me.
  • Licensed racers – It’s surprisingly easy to get SCCA, NASA, or other real racing licenses. Just because you went to a 3 day basketball camp doesn’t mean you’re ready for the NBA, a college team, a high school team, or even a pickup game at the local gym. Let’s stop pretending a racing license means something it doesn’t.
  • Lifted 4x4s – Tires that stick out 1 foot beyond the fenders are really dangerous. If you touch tires with someone on the highway, bad shit will happen. Ever notice that such vehicles never have dirt on them? It’s because the drivers are fucking poseurs.
  • Maintenance – Keeping a race/track car in competition condition is a lot of work. There is some small satisfaction in doing a good job or saving money, but there’s a lot more work than satisfaction.
  • Marital strife – My wife doesn’t approve and isn’t afraid to say so.
  • Nannies – I don’t think race cars should have ABS, traction control, or stability control. The driver should control the car, not some computers. It’s almost the point where we’re saying “Hey Siri/Cortana/Alexa, turn the car for me”. Am I against fuel injection? No. Does that make me a hypocrite? Sort of.
  • O-dark-thirty– Getting up at 5:00 in the morning to drive to the track is never fun. Can’t we have artist’s hours and start at noon?
  • Real amateur racers – Whether it’s Lemons, Lucky Dog, ChampCar, WRL, AER, etc, there are lots of amateur endurance racers who take themselves way too seriously. Budget racing isn’t the path to a racing career. It’s people having fun together. Chill.
  • Sim racing haters – I’ve met lots of people who think sim racing is fake racing. Usually those people suck at it and what they really hate is that they suck at it. But the principles of real driving and sim driving are the same. If you can’t figure out how to make the sim world work, then you probably don’t understand the real world either.
  • Sports cars – I don’t think high performance cars belong on the street. What is the point of driving a 911 to work? It’s like buttering your bread with a Samurai sword. Butter knives work better for butter. Also, track cars are better on track. Wouldn’t it be better to drive a Prius to the track where you have a Spec Racer Ford (or whatever) waiting for you?
  • Street driving – I would happily give up driving on the street forever starting right now. Self-driving cars can’t come quickly enough.
  • Supercars – The only reason to drive a Ferrari to the gym is to show off how much more money you have than the next guy. That’s a form of socioeconomic bullying. Fuck off elitist jerk.
  • Street racing – People who race on public streets are irresponsible dumbasses. It’s not that hard to go to a track or autocross event.
  • Waste – It doesn’t sit well with me that motorsports is a way of having fun at the expense of the environment.
  • Winning is everything – In order to succeed in racing competitions, be they F1, NASCAR, SCCA or whatever, you need every edge you can get. That leads to lots of dishonestly in the form of rule bending/breaking. Also, there are lots of people who think that being really fast excuses them from being a miserable human being. Cheating assholes who win are still cheating assholes.

New Car!


I recently sold 3 cars: 1991 Ford E350 RV, 1995 BWM 318ti, and 2004 Ford Ranger.

I had big ideas for the RV. I was going to drive up and down the coast towing my Yaris to SCCA B-SPEC races. But I never got to do that in part because I started suffering from chronic back problems (herniated disc & spinal stenosis). An equally important reason was that after doing an SCCA race, I realized it sucks. Well, for me anyway. I prefer the endurance racing mindset and also, I like being part of a team.

The 318ti was my solution to the one-car problem. I like the practicality of hatchbacks and 4 seats. I already have a FWD racecar, so I wanted something with RWD. I also like BMWs. Oddly, I even like the way it looks. But there were some problems with the engine, and I never felt passionate about the car to get them solved properly. The problem with the engine wasn’t the lack of power, by the way. I like low-powered cars.

I was sad to see the Ranger go. I had a lot of adventures in that thing from the daily commute, to towing over mountains, to driving off-road, to drifting, to track driving. It did it all without complaint (or style). I got rid of it because my back doesn’t want me to do anything that requires a truck.


Given that I recently cleared out 3 cars, I’ve been looking for the perfect track car for about a month. Since I already had  an ideal daily beater (Hyundai Elantra GT), the track car could be completely impractical. In other words, I was considering convertibles.

While the S2000 or ND Miata would be a natural choice, they are not in my current budget. Some day I hope to purchase an ND RF when the used prices come down. I’ve owned 2 NA Miatas before, and I decided I didn’t want to go down the NA/NB path again. Older cars, like Alfa Romeos, Triumphs, Fiats, MGs, etc. are intriguing to me, but I don’t want to work on my car constantly. I drove a Boxster at Thunderhill and it was brilliant, but I don’t see myself in the Porsche Owners Club. Mercedes makes some beautiful convertibles, but there must be some reason you never see them on track. So that left the following vehicles to consider.

  • BMW Z3/Z4
  • Mazda MX-5 (NC)
  • Toyota MR-2 Spyder

The main problem with Z3s is that the differential mounts are too weak for the 6 cyl engines. The repair isn’t simple, especially if the sheet metal has already torn. Z4s have a much more disturbing problem: the electronic power steering fails in weird ways and fixing them requires a lot of labor. NC Miatas have limited roll bar options. There is a nice one from Blackbird Fabworx, but it’s $1250 without shipping. MR-2s have very little trunk space. Ultimately, I think I’d be happy with any of them except maybe the Z4.


I ended up buying a 1.9 Z3.

Surely 95% of you are thinking “you suck at racecars”. In my defense, I do own an actual racecar. However, it is a Yaris. So part of me agrees. On the other hand, I like low powered cars. They consume far less fuel, tire, and pad. To me, sportscars are about handling not power.

I really like BMW ergonomics. I felt instantly at home in the cockpit. This particular car also came with not-too stiff coil-overs, a bolt-in rollbar, an extra set of wheels shod with Pilot Sport 4S tires, mounting rails for a race seat, a cover, and a bunch of spare parts.

LDRL TH5 2020 recap

Late Start

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we left for the track about 9 hours late. We were supposed to leave Davis at 9 am but David was delayed and he didn’t arrive with the truck until almost 6 pm. We quickly loaded up and then headed for Esparto where the Yaris was vacationing under the care of Mike “Tinyvette” Meier. We made it to the track just about 8 pm when the tech inspection was supposed to be closing, but there were 10 cars still in line, so no problem. Everything checked out fine for us, but my old Miata was getting some extra scrutiny.

Miata #581

Before the Yaris, I was on a team that raced a Miata. It participated in Lemons, Lucky Dog, ChumpCar, a bunch of HPDEs and even an SCCA race school. It went through half a dozen Lemons themes, hosted an all women’s racing team, and was rented out to a friend’s team while their car was getting fixed. During its tenure with us, it grabbed 3rd place in B class in Lucky Dog (Laguna Seca) and 3rd place overall in ChumpCar (Thunderhill). Eventually I started to spend a lot more time with the Yaris and the Miata sat in my driveway for a year with a bad engine. And then we got a JDM engine and it sat for another year doing nothing. I was going to sell it and then instead I donated it to Deaf Power Racing, a new team whose mission is to get more deaf people into motorsports.

Under DPR care, #581 has had a whole host of problems. They inherited an incomplete build and a partial Lemons theme. In their first outing, a few weeks ago, the engine bent a valve. So they went into the Thunderhill race needing to install a new engine, which they did the day before. Their reward for all their hard work was LDRL officials giving them a hard time for the cage. Not only was the cage built by Evil Genius Racing (owner John Pagel is head of Lemons tech), it also had previously passed inspection by NASA, SCCA, Lemons, ChumpCar, and even Lucky Dog themselves! Anyway, their cage issues got resolved but that was just the start of their problems.

When the green flag was thrown on Saturday, they didn’t make it through the first stint before they came in with a broken diff hanger. That never failed on us, but I guess they fail eventually. The next calamity was that the axle wasn’t replaced correctly, so the diff oil leaked out and the diff over heated. So after working for several days straight they had a pile of broken bits to show for it.

Guest Drivers

I run guest drivers on my race team all the time. There are lots of people who pay money to enter a race only to find that the car they were supposed to drive has died for one reason or another. Being the sap that I am, I like to give such unfortunate people a chance to walk on the mild side. I’ve met some really nice people doing this, and that’s probably what reinforces the practice. DPR had 3 arrive-n-drives and no car. So we cut our stints down and made room for them. I would have made room for the owners too, but they thought it would be best to prioritize their paying customers.

Lucky Coincidence!

It turns out that one of the drivers, Taylor, had a rather unexpected connection to me. Not only does he know Ben Dawson, a dear friend and former teammate of mine back at the start of my racing adventures, he had also driven on his racing team. That meant Taylor had actually driven the second car I had given away: my 1986 BMW 325e. That now lives in North Carolina with Winsome Racing. Now if you’re counting cars, you might think that Miata #581 was car #1, but actually that was #3. The first racecar we gave away was our 1988 MR2. Don’t get excited, I don’t have any immediate plans of making the Yaris #4.

Lucky Find!

Guest driver #2 turned out to be a really important person to meet. Ryan is a former StopTech employee. Not only could I share with him my love for the StopTech 309 compound, he also told me what was wrong with my brakes. The Yaris doesn’t use stock calipers because the pad choices were so limited. It was either EBC Red or Hawk HPS, neither of which was very good. So I upgraded to a larger caliper from a Corolla. You have to use a different rotor, but otherwise they bolt right up. StopTech 309s are made in Corolla sizes, which is why I made the swap in the first place. Here’s the problem: the Corolla piston is probably a little bigger. That means it takes more pedal travel to operate the brake and it results in a softer pedal feel. And here I thought I could never remove the last bit of air. Ryan said he would give me a professional brake analysis if I sent him my part numbers and corner weights. How cool is that?

Change Happens

Lucky Dog Racing League is changing. While some change is inevitable, the direction the league is going is away from me. It’s probably better for the health of the series to embrace fast, expensive cars, but it’s leaving budget, grassroots racing behind. Sure there are a few teams showing up with single axle trailers, but there are more with stackers. And while there’s nothing in the rules preventing someone showing up in a 1980s econobox, there’s also apparently nothing stopping people from bringing cars that compete in NASA E0. The speed difference isn’t safe or fun. Next year they will have a B-Spec class. On the one hand, that’s a nice concession for newer cars like mine that are currently illegal because they are too new. On the other hand, B-Specs are rare, and I’d probably be the only one in class. Participation trophies don’t motivate me. I want to dice with cars of similar speed. The growing speed differential between my Yaris and the top cars is making racing less enjoyable for members of my team. As a result, the Yaris is leaning towards more Lemons and less Lucky Dog in the future (I think).


I drove a half dozen laps at the start of the race on Sunday before the double yellows came out. I got to dice with a few Miatas during that time. Thanks, that was fun!

The Aces Page returns!

Long ago, I had this really long page that drew parallels between World War II fighter planes and 24 Hours of Lemons cars. Lots of the links to images became broken over time, so I removed the page. But I’ve now replaced all the images with local files instead of links, so this won’t happen in the future. I’ve also updated the plane:car pairings and added some new text. Here’s the Aces link, which you can also find in the site menu.

Post-race analysis: drivers

Let’s take a look at some of the telemetry traces of the Triple Apex Racing drivers from the last race.

Danny vs. Danny

The first thing I want to discuss is Danny. I’m usually a couple seconds faster than Danny. I was on Saturday. Then we switched tires on Sunday and everyone went faster. But was it really the tires? In the speed trace below, Saturday is black and Sunday is red. I’ve displayed the top 3 laps each day. Saturday he was doing 3:39-3:40 while Sunday it was 3:36s. What I see here is that he’s driving differently. On Sunday (red) he started backing up the corners. He gets his braking done earlier and gets on gas earlier. Most of the time, his minimum corner speed is higher despite the change. The fresh tires may have contributed a little to his higher speed, but I think it’s mostly because he’s getting better at driving a low powered FWD car with an open diff. His usual car is 911 GT3, so yeah, it’s a little different!


Danny vs. Ian

Due to yellow flags, I didn’t get many fast laps. I did a 3:38 and 3:37 back to back. You can see these starting at the 10:00 mark in my video from the last post. In my 3:38 lap, I lose 1 second passing an E36 in T2 when it changes line mid-corner. Then I pass the yellow Miata in T5, messing up my T6 entry, causing another loss of a second on the run up to 9C. The 3:38 could easily have been a 3:36. On the 3:37 lap, I lose a little time making a pass in T2 and then 1 whole second in T3W while I wait for a fast E36 to get around me. So that too could have been a 3:36. Had I gotten a bunch of clean laps, I’m pretty sure I would have been doing a bunch of 3:36s. Could I have broken into the 3:35s? I don’t know. For the most part, Danny and I drive pretty similarly. Below, the red lines are Danny’s fast laps (as above). The black is my 3:37 and the blue is 3:38. This is a speed trace from 7W to the SF line. We have a slightly different way of doing 1W, but the rest is similar enough that you might think it was the same driver.

Randy vs. Danny

So I’m sure everyone wants to know how fast Randy was (green lines below). Faster than Danny (red lines). Where is he faster? You might expect it’s the fast corners, but it’s the slow ones. He gains nearly 1.5 seconds in T9C alone! And he was only 1.8 seconds faster than Danny. T9C is on the far left of the graph. But he’s also faster in T7W and T11. How? Mostly by running over curbs. As the car owner/builder, I don’t really approve of that.

Learning a new track: episode 1: Pacific Raceways

One of my favorite things to do in sim racing is preparing for a track I’ve never seen before. Not only is it fun to experience new challenges, but it also increases your corner vocabulary, which helps you get better at every track. Here’s how the process generally works.

  • Pick a track, usually one where I imagine I might drive one day
  • Drive the track blind, without any preparation
  • Do some online research: read track guides, watch videos
  • Drive more, working on specific goals inspired by the online research
  • Do some mental imagery, focusing on reference points
  • Drive more, trying to lap as fast as possible

I don’t always record telemetry in these sessions, but I thought it would be fun to do a post where I show how much I improve by learning the track over the course of a couple sessions on a lazy weekend.

When learning a new track, I usually drive a Miata or Formula trainer (e.g. FF, FV, Skip Barber). I’ve actually never driven a Formula car of any kind, but I think Formula trainers are great for exploring a track because they have unrivaled visibility, enough power to get into trouble, no nannies, and no downforce. It’s the purest form of driving. Maybe I should get one in real life. I do look longingly at Thunder Roadsters…

Session 1: Jumping in Blind

OK, time to choose a track: Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington. Why? It’s on my Pacific North bucket list along with ORP and The Ridge. Lucky Dog has been hosting races there, so there’s a good chance I could race it in the upcoming year. I don’t know the track at all, except that I’ve seen some video clips of really awful wrecks there. I heard that they changed it a little to make it more safe, but I doubt the version I have in Assetto Corsa is that up-to-date.

The car: Russell Alexis Mk.14 Formula Ford. Like many cars in Assetto Corsa, you can download this free from Race Department. There’s also a link to send the author (Nicholas Murdoch) money via PayPal. I sent him $10. It’s as good a model as you’re likely to find in any game, and I really appreciate the author’s efforts. Certainly I will get at least $10 of enjoyment out of it, and $10 is tiny compared to real car stuff.

Driving without any preparation is somewhat suicidal. But in a good way. You very quickly figure out which corners will catch you unawares. Here’s a rundown of my lap times: 2:24, 1:57, 1:47, 1:51, 1:45, CRASH, 1:47, 1:43, 1:43, 1:42, 1:42, 1:40. There isn’t much point in reporting tenths at this point. I ran off track a few times early on, which accounts for some absurdly long lap times, and I had to restart once due to a horrific crash. In a blind session like this, I may do 10-15 laps.

There are some very tricky parts to this course! There aren’t any brake markers, so you have to look hard to find reference points. There are also places where the asphalt widens for other configurations (drag strip), making it difficult to figure out exactly where the track is going. This makes it difficult to plan the optimum line. There are also a few connected corners where compromises are necessary. Or are they? I need more time to experiment, but before that, I should hear what others have to say about the track.

Session 2: Track Guide

Why didn’t I start with track guides and videos? I find that until you drive a course, it’s hard to picture the specifics of each corner in your mind. While I would have gotten a little more out of Session 1 had I read some track guides first, I’ll get a lot more out of Session 2 having a mental movie of each corner in my mind. This isn’t a strategy I necessarily advocate when going to a real track for the first time! Do all the research you can before getting there and then review again after your track day.

I found the following videos helpful. The quality is pretty terrible, but the instruction is good. There aren’t any of the cone markers in the sim though, so those reference points aren’t there.

  • The main thing I took away from the videos was how simple T1 can be even without brake markers. If you’re on the left side of the track and gently turn in towards the end of the concrete wall, the track opens up for you.
  • Turn 2 is a huge decreasing radius corner, which is a hard corner to optimize. If you overslow the entry, you can’t make up for it by adding gas later as the radius pinches in. So you have to gradually bleed speed for a long time. That leads to a desire to hold as much speed as long as possible, but there’s a risk of going in too hot and washing out.
  • Turn 3a is really about finding a good braking marker. If you brake too late, and end up going off track, you could end up crossing the traffic on the other side. Not sure if there’s something to prevent this in real life. If you brake too early you end up in a weird situation where adding throttle seems like the right thing to do, but it isn’t.
  • Turn 3b is all about positioning yourself for a good exit. It’s a really long corner though, so the late apex is a long way around.
  • Turn 5a requires some early braking to scrub speed and then back on the throttle to stabilize the suspension. It’s possibly my favorite corner because it is so unusual.
  • Turn 5b is tighter and slower than it looks with a nasty curb at the apex. The best entry angle requires sacrificing the exit of 5a, and the next corner entry requires sacrificing the exit of 5b.
  • Turn 6 isn’t very exciting if you set up for it properly.
  • Turn 7 is tricky because the elevation robs you of vision and there aren’t good reference points. The track opens up absurdly wide due to the drag strip. What’s the line through here?
  • Turn 8 is puzzling to me. It feels like a decreasing radius corner but it doesn’t really look that way from the map. Like T7, there’s a heck of a lot of room and many potential lines. Not sure what is best.
  • Turn 9 isn’t very exciting in a low powered car, but I can imagine in a high powered car, you might have to sacrifice the exit of T8.
  • Turn 10 is just a mild bend. If you drive point-to-point, there’s a nice setup to T1.

Session 3: Corner Work

With a better idea of each corner in mind, I drove about 20 laps. The times were 1:48, 1:48, CRASH, 1:42, 1:39, 1:39, 1:39, 1:39, 1:38, 1:39, 1:38, 1:38, 1:43, 1:38, 1:38, 1:39, 1:38.6, 1:38.4, 1:38.3, 1:38.0, 1:38.0, 1:37.9. Let’s take a look at the specific areas of improvement between the two sessions and see how  picked up over 2 seconds.

  • On the 1:40 lap (red) I steer a lot and let off throttle in T1 at 2500′ feet. In my mind, this was one area I was doing really poorly, but it turned out to be only 0.25 sec.
  • I gain another 0.25 sec by managing my speed better in the decreasing radius T2.
  • Surprisingly, figuring out how to brake for 3b nets me 0.5 sec. (5000-5500′). That’s a lot of time in one braking zone. It is a weird braking zone though, because it’s downhill and turning.
  • The biggest gain is in the esses (7700-8400′), which isn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t focus on this in my offtrack studying, but the gain is nearly 1.5 seconds. Hustling the car before, during, and after 5a was the key. This one complex of corners amounted to the same gain as everything prior.
  • The fact that I didn’t see much improvement in T6-T9 suggests I might be able to find more time there.

Session 4: Mental Imagery

I fell asleep going through each corner in my head. I didn’t even make it 2 laps before I was asleep.

Session 5: Setting Flyers

The black trace is the same as the 1:37.9 above. The green represents the best in this session: 1:36.8. I was able to improve another second in two areas.

  • Better trail braking through T2 gained 0.4 sec.
  • A new understanding of how to connect T5 through T7 (7800-10000′). In this stretch, I was able to knock off 0.75 sec. by focusing on the compromises.

If I drove another 20 laps, I could iron out some of those losses and get into the low 1:36s. But for me to get into the 1:35s will require something new.


If you want to compare your times to mine, drive with all nannies off, default weather, and default setup. Just in case they change the defaults at some point, here are the particulars:

  • Weather: 8:00, Mid-Clear, 26C, Optimum track surface
  • Traction Control: Factory (none)
  • Stability Control: Off
  • Mechanical Damage: 100%
  • Tyre Blankets: Off
  • ABS: Factory (none)
  • Fuel Consumption: On
  • Tyre Wear: 1x
  • Slipstream Effect: 1x
  • Gears: 13:38, 15:30, 16:23, 24:26, 10:31 (final)
  • Tyres: Formula Ford East, 16 psi all around
  • Fuel: 13 liters
  • Camber: -0.1 F, -0.2 R
  • Toe: 4 F, 12 R
  • Bump: 1200 F, 1950 R
  • Brake Bias: 52%
  • ARB: 15 F, 7 R
  • Height: 10 F, 20 R
  • Wheel Rate: 11 F, 22 R

As you can see, Formula Fords have a huge range of setup choices. Setting the car up for the clockwise direction and a gearbox that maximizes gear usage will certainly drop lap times. Tuning is something I do when I’m searching for tenths, and as you can see, over the course of a few sessions, lap times were improving by whole seconds. The low lying fruit is almost never setup.


Pacific Raceways is a really interesting track that appeals to me because of its mix of difficult braking zones and compromises. It’s not just a bunch of 90s that require precision. This is a thinking person’s track.

Beyond Thompson

At the last Lemons race at Thompson, I only got in 6 laps of practice. However, the AiM Solo was running then and during the race, so I got to do a little comparative analysis afterwards. In the graph below, the red line is my fastest practice lap while the blue line is the fastest race lap on Sunday. Click on the image to open it up in a larger window and then write down at least 3 things you notice that’s different about the two traces.

  1. OK, so the most obvious thing is that the drive down the main straight was very different. I had an extra 200+ lbs of passenger and gear in the car and was driving in 4th gear. There may also have been traffic.
  2. The second thing you probably noticed was the very low speed in T2. I was experimenting with the brakes seeing how good they were, so my braking point was very late and this caused me to botch the corner. No big deal, this is what practice laps are for. I had never driven the car before and I needed to experiment. I tried different lines and gears nearly every lap.
  3. The thing I want you to notice next is that all the red lines are shifted left relative to the blue lines. The braking points are earlier and the acceleration points are earlier.
  4. Because my acceleration is earlier, I tend to have higher speeds on the way to the next corner.
  5. The most important area of the track is the 9-10 combination that sets up the main straight (6000-7000 ft). I take this as a single descending radius corner rather than two corners.
  6. While the 7-8 carousel (5000-5500 ft) isn’t nearly as important, I have a very different line compared to everyone else on the team (who all take a line similar to the blue one).

We could go through each corner talking about the trade-offs of taking different lines. But the differences in the red and blue lines aren’t really about Thompson. We can summarize all the specific differences with two general strategies, which I’ll describe below.

Backing up the corner

In point #3 above, I noted that my driving style involves braking earlier and accelerating earlier. This is called “backing up the corner”. The earlier you can get the car pointed to the exit, the earlier you can get to full throttle. Getting the car rotated early is usually accomplished by trail-braking deep into the corner so that the steering and braking inputs overlap quite a bit. This has the effect of swinging the rear of the car around, and you may have to make a steering correction to prevent the car from oversteering into a spin. There are risks involved when driving with this style. That said, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the car to rotate. It was set up with a lot of understeer. While I could get on throttle early, the car was leaned over quite a bit, and the open diff caused the inside front tire to search for traction. But even without getting the rotation I wanted, you can see from the telemetry graphs that there are gains to backing up the corner.

Connecting combinations

There’s only one combination corner at Thompson: 9-10. The blue driver “sees” this as 2 corners with a small straight between them. You can see this as the hump in the speed graph. The red driver (me) sees this as one long corner. Why? It’s the most important corner of the track and my goal is to optimize the position, angle, and speed of the nadir (slowest part of the corner). So I focus all my attention on getting to the nadir with the best combination of grip and speed that I can, which means throwing away the first corner. By slowing down early and keeping the suspension quiet, I optimize grip. If I speed up too much, or turn too much, I’ll upset the car and lose grip. This costs me some time at the start of the corner, which you can see at 6100 ft. But the investment pays off as from then on I’m gaining time.


Next time you’re on track, try making a conscious effort to get your shit (braking, turning) done earlier. Stop optimizing the straight you’re on and start optimizing the straight coming up. Also try to get your connected corners more connected. Think about how the first corner affects the second. Try some different lines to see what works and what doesn’t. Make sure to bring a data acquisition device. Not only will it help you sort things out later, it also makes the downtime between track sessions a lot more interesting.

Track Report: Palmer Motorsports Park

My wife is a PhD student in history. Yeah, that’s right, I’m 52 and my wife is a graduate student. We’re in the Boston area for two weeks, and while she’s studying in the Harvard archives, I’m off playing with cars.

Wait, don’t get the wrong idea. She isn’t a trophy wife. I’m not that old, and she’s not that young. She’s actually 6 months older than me and started her PhD at 50. I think that’s pretty cool, but this is a blog about racing, so let’s go there.

I’m racing in a Lemons event at Thompson this weekend, and it turns out there’s a Track Night in America event at nearby Palmer the previous day. So being the “gotta have the track sticker” kind of people we are, my brother and I decided to hit Palmer the day before Thompson.

The drive from Boston to Palmer is mostly boring, but once you leave the I90, you pass through lots of quaint little villages with historic buildings and bridges with bubbling brooks beneath. I wanted to stop and have some tea and biscuits more than once.

The event was well organized with minimal fluff or hassle. Mario arrived in his RV with Miata in tow at 4:00, just in time for the Advanced/Intermediate drivers meeting. Amazingly, we went to the meeting, unloaded the car, and got me on track by 4:20. While I had never driven Palmer before, I had done some laps in rFactor2 a while ago. Not all maps are created equal and my memory of the virtual track wasn’t all that clear, so it’s hard to make an accurate assessment. So instead I’ll make an inaccurate one.

  • There’s a lot more elevation in real life. This is pretty much true of every virtual track. It’s much harder to sense elevation in 2D.
  • The real-life camber seemed greater in both the on-camber and off-camber turns.
  • Geometrically, it is not a difficult track to learn because most of the corners are pretty tight and very long.
  • Because of the changes in elevation and camber, every corner has a different level of grip.
  • The track is more of a roller coaster than just about any track I’ve ever driven.

I put in two back-to-back 2:03s. Here’s the faster one.


In just about every session, someone drove their car into a tire wall. Or maybe it just seemed that way. Palmer isn’t very forgiving of people who don’t know their limits, and the short distance from track to tire wall to boulders means that small missteps become big missteps.

So how do I rate Palmer? I’ll put on my Professor garb and give grades.

  • Location: B – It’s a little out of the way and there are some narrow, low-speed roads. But at least the scenery is pleasant.
  • Facility: C – It’s functional but minimal from the sheet metal buildings to the mostly gravel parking lots.
  • Track: B – I love all the elevation and camber, and there are a few interesting compromises. But the corners are all pretty tight and very long.
  • Safety: B – The course has very little runoff anywhere. The tow trucks were efficient.

New car!

For a while, I’ve been looking for a car to replace my Ford Ranger. The Ranger isn’t a great daily driver and while it’s sort of entertaining on track, it’s more funny than fun. Car choice is a very personal decision, so here are my criteria for choosing a car.


  • Rear wheel drive – I like both FWD and RWD but I already have a FWD (Yaris), so the next car has to be RWD.
  • Hatchback – I love the practicality of hatchbacks, wagons, and pickups. However, I rarely need the extra size of a wagon or pickup, so I prefer hatchback.
  • Sporty – Most cars can be driven in a spirited manner, so this is a pretty low bar. However, I’m not interested in SUVs or minivans.
  • Manual – I enjoy the interaction with shifter and clutch.
  • 4 seats – Every once in a while I need to take 3 or 4 people. 2 seat cars just aren’t that practical for daily drivers. While I have squeezed 3 into the Ranger, it’s uncomfortable for everyone.
  • Hard top – I like convertibles, but not enough to have one as a daily driver.
  • 2 doors – The difference between 2 and 4 doors is pretty negligible to me. I like the convenience of 4 doors, but I rarely take passengers. 2 doors means less window and door lock maintenance.
  • <2800 lbs – This is sort of an arbitrary figure, but I don’t like spending money on consumables. Lighter cars use less tires, brakes, and fuel.
  • Good gas mileage. My daily commute is so short that it hardly matters, but I’d like to get at least 30 mpg on the highway for longer trips.
  • 4×100 – I have a lot of 4×100 wheels. Sadly, not many cars have this bolt pattern.
  • CAN bus – I like all the sensors you get on modern cars. It’s free telemetry.
  • Classic – I like classic cars more than modern ones. This is often at odds with CAN bus.

I have at various times considered a BRZ/FRS/86. I’ve driven them on the street and track, and they are really great cars. The rear seats are a complete joke though. But the real killer for me is that I don’t like the way they look. That doesn’t matter to me so much on track, but as a daily driver I don’t want something that screams boy racer. 350Z/370Z are even louder in this regard.

I really liked driving my old E30, and could easily imagine owning another one. Maybe a 325i or 318is rather than a 325e though. E30s are getting more expensive and some parts (transmissions) are getting hard to find. An E36 M3 would be awesome, but they are on the heavy and non-economical side. E46s have CAN bus and have some extra appeal because of that. Ultimately, I think I could be happy with most 3-series.

I’ve mostly written off convertibles, but what about a Z3 coupe? Shooting brakes definitely have some appeal as they have the storage of a hatchback just without the 4 seats. They have a habit of tearing out their differential mounts apparently. But anyway, a cool car that I would be happy owning.

I seriously considered a 190E. The 16 valve Cosworths are collectible, and too expensive, but the 2.6 sportline would be acceptable if it came with a manual transmission. Surely there must be a way to swap it, but it’s a somewhat rare car in the States and that makes repairs inconvenient. One doesn’t see many Mercedes at the track, and maybe there’s a reason for that. If I was getting a car that was auto-only, I might be better served by an IS300.

What did I buy?

So what car did I get? A 1995 BMW 318ti. You might find this odd, but it’s pretty close to my ideal car. I think most BMW enthusiasts don’t like them because they look weird and are under-powered. I actually like the way it looks and the power:weight ratio is better than any car I’ve previously owned (seriously). Purchase price was $1350 for a 225,000 mile car with perfect paint and nearly perfect interior. There was only 1 prior owner, and the car was garaged and regularly maintained. But there’s always a catch…


Despite the “dealer” telling me it passed smog, it had not been smogged in 2 years. It’s illegal to sell a non-smogged car in California, and if I sent the law after this guy, he could lose his dealer’s license. I still haven’t decided what to do about that. Right now I’m focused on how good the car is. All used cars have issues, and here’s the list for this car.

  • Dead battery
  • Idle jumps around when warmed up
  • Hatch struts no longer hold up hatch
  • ABS light on
  • Driver seat is worn through on the side
  • Windscreen was replaced recently, but the job was ugly

The major problem was the jumpy idle, because it’s not passing smog like that. So after replacing the battery, I took the car over to Evil Genius Racing (aka John Pagel’s house). He has an OBD1 reader with the plugs for all the different manufacturers (not standardized until 1996 in the US). He pulled the codes and it turned out the car had a faulty knock sensor and right front ABS sensor.


There are 2 knock sensors on the engine, pressed against the engine block, buried deep beneath the intake manifold. The 318ti has an unusual manifold. I mean really unusual. Engines tend to run in 2 modes, commuter and performance. There are a number of ways to solve this problem from hybrids to VTEC. One of the earlier methods was to have two different ways to let air into the engine. On our first racecar, an MR2, the 4AGE redtop had 8 intake runners in a system called T-VIS. At low RPMs, 4 were used, but at high RPM all 8 were open. On the M42B18 engine in the 318ti, there is DISA. These are two completely separate intakes with a butterfly valve switching between the two. Getting to the knock sensors meant disassembling both intakes, the fuel rail, ~9 sensors, and a bunch of other stuff.

I don’t know how useful it is to have 2 intakes, but it got me thinking that it would make for some great Lemons engineering. Two completely separate intakes with a manually operated valve to switch between them. Why? Well if I have to explain, you’re not the intended audience.


Since I’m interested in tracking the car from time to time, I want to make a few upgrades. This is what I’ve acquired so far.

  • BMW Style 104 16×7 wheels
  • Federal Evoluzion ST-1 225/50/16 tires
  • StopTech 309 brake pads

In addition, I’m considering a performance chip. The specs I’ve seen show improvements of 11 hp and 15 ft-lbs. That’s enough to make a difference. While doing some research on 318ti tracking, I came across the BMW Compact Cup, a racing series in the UK for 1996+ 318ti. It’s a budget series with tight regulations and very minimal modifications (suspension, tires, ECU, safety). I watched a video and recorded the following qualifying times at Brands Hatch Indy. The cars change, but the distribution is the same as every other race. You know, 10% don’t belong in the race, 10% are in the battle, and 80% are just getting in an out of each others’ way. The 80% is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Stay tuned for that.


Race Report: Lemons Thunderhill

I’ll be updating this post each day.

Thursday – arrival

In the picture below you can see how simple my race operation is. I flat tow my Yaris behind a 3.0L Ranger. It’s a very flat route so the 145 hp Ranger has no problems towing the car and gear. I arrived at the track at 4:30 the day before the test and tech day to try to get a good pit spot. I wanted something under the awning so I could shelter the pit from sun/rain. Mission accomplished.

Friday – test and tech

Tech was a breeze. The car has raced in several other series and all the safety issues are well sorted. We got into the B class with zero penalty laps. That was what we expected.

We had decided that the full test day was too expensive. $349 for 1 driver and $149 for each additional. We considered doing the half day at $249 + $100 but then decided to play a joke instead. People walked by and  puzzled: “why is the wing on the front”. We dead-panned “it’s front-wheel drive”. The look of disbelief on Daniel and Mario’s faces was worth the effort.

The weather forecast changes hourly. The latest news is that Saturday should be dry all day with a high of 78. Sunday may be wet in the morning. I told the team I get to drive the wettest stint. That may screw up driver order, but as team owner, I’m putting my foot down on that. There’s no way I can keep up with the fastest cars on a dry track, but give me puddles and let’s see who comes out on top.

Saturday – race day

The race day didn’t start the way we wanted. Our first driver got 2 black flags. One of them was for going off track to avoid a collision. I’ll take a black flag over dents any day. But 2 black flags pretty much put us out of contention. Also, there was some blisteringly fast B cars we could never catch. Our second driver didn’t like the way the car was driving. Actually, neither did the first driver. When I asked if the rear had no traction, he said neither end had traction. Puzzling. So we decided to turn the rest of the race day into a tuning day.

Mario went out and came back in after a few laps complaining that the car was oversteering badly. We were running Federal 595 RS-RR 225/45/15 15×9 on the front and Falken RT615K+ 205/50/15 15×7 rear. So we decided to switch the rears out for a stickier compound: Brigestone RE-71R 205/50/15 15×7. This time he stayed out a while and had a great race with a pickup. When he came back in, he said the car was much more neutral now and that I should get in to see what I thought.

The first thing I thought was the brakes are still mushy. The pedal starts hard but just mushes out and goes to the floor. That’s really disconcerting because it gives you very little brake feel. And without a firm pedal, it’s pretty hard to heel-toe shift. Oh well, I just did more straight-line braking and eased in the clutch. Not ideal, but I’m okay working around problems. It’s likely an aging master cylinder.

The next thing I thought was that the 225 RS-RRs 15×9 aren’t that much different from the 205 15×7 I had run in earlier races. The tires don’t actually feel very fast. Part of that is because they are miserable under braking. They slide way too easily. They aren’t a particularly loud tire, like say the NT-05, and in 225 they are definitely on the quiet side. I started to understand why driver 2 thought the car had no grip on either end. The RS-RR doesn’t feel like it stops very well, so it appears to have no front grip. But once you get into a corner, it’s side grip is really good and overwhelms the thinner and harder rear tire, leading to oversteer. Mario said it was a lot of work just keeping it on track. I didn’t get to try the 615K+ rear setup, but the RE-71R rears felt pretty well planted.

While the car felt like it had better acceleration at low speeds, surely due to the weight loss, the drag was noticeably higher. This may be because the cut down doors don’t have mirrors or the wind deflectors I added. So the inside of the car turned into a parachute. It meant that top speed on the main straight was just 90-91 mph, or about 5 mph lower than usual. That didn’t stop me from having fun though. I managed a 3:43 in my few laps on track. You can see the entire stint in the video below (quality is not good because Windows 10 Movie Maker sucks. I may re-encode this on my Mac later in the week).

Sunday – race day

The forecast was wrong. We arrived at the track to find it drying. I was expecting a lot of rain early so I could one-up some fast cars but it just wasn’t very wet. Discouraged, I decided not to drive first. Danny drove first and while he was out we got our pit crew member, Tiernan, a driving wristband. He got in the car next and despite all the warnings about the blind turn 9C that connects the East and West tracks, he did what a lot of people do, and drove straight though. When he got to the penalty box, they decided to throw the book at him. My book. I had dropped off about 15 copies of the book to be sold for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand charity. Tiernan’s penalty was to read a passage from the book while being filmed. If it doesn’t make the Lemons wrap-up video, I’ll post it here.

The rain started picking up and it seemed there was enough rain to have a bit of fun. And fun was had. I got my wish and was able to dice with the fastest cars on track… and beat them.

Mario drove next and also had a blast splashing around (in the muck and the mire). But then the track started drying and he decided it just wasn’t as much fun. We wanted to get Daniel and Tiernan back in the car one more time, so they split the time on a mostly dry track. In the end, we were 56th out of 110 entries, or something like that. After we realized we weren’t in contention, we relaxed and had a lot of fun. This weekend reminds me how much fun Lemons is. That said, Lemons is changing, and not necessarily for the better. I’ll comment on that later.